media don't have best coverage on war, soldier-editor
September 22, 2006 | The U.S. media aren't the best
place to find good coverage of the war in Iraq, at least
not according to Marshall Thompson, an Army journalist
who recently returned from Iraq.
After speaking about his experiences in Iraq to students
in the Taggart Student Center Tuesday afternoon, Thompson,
a 2003 USU journalism graduate who returned from Iraq
in August, spoke to Brenda Cooper's Media Criticism
class about the media coverage of the war and explained
to them why he thinks Al-Jazeera, a controversial Arabic
television station, has the best war coverage.
"If you're a media outlet and everyone hates you,
you're on to something!" Thompson said. The people who
run Al Jazeera are good, educated people, he said. They
don't necessarily support Bin Laden, but they aren't
going to give in to what the U.S. wants either. So they
show the truth and they show all of it.
"We considered that a beacon of free speech," said
Thompson, who was editor of the Anaconda Times while
in Iraq. He said the information put out by Al Jazeera
is important because it shows the people and their experiences.
"How can any good be done if we don't know what they
want or what they care about?" he said.
He described some of the differences between reporting
by the U.S. media and media in other places, including
Al-Jazeera and BBC. One example he gave is that the
U.S. media constantly talks about "Al Qaida" being in
Iraq, but everywhere else in the world they do not because
it isn't certain if Al Qaida is really there. Instead
they use terms like "Iraqi insurgents" which is more
Often the media doesn't tell the whole story. Thompson
told of a time he was doing an article about an army
hospital. He was speaking to an orthopedic surgeon,
teasing him about being there just to treat blisters.
But then the surgeon said something that really affected
"He told me, 'What people don't know is that yes,
we save a lot of lives here, but we save a lot of lives
without limbs.'" There are a lot of people who walk
away and will never be the same, said Thompson, and
sometimes the media doesn't explain that part of the
There are also a lot of things that are going on in
Iraq that don't get reported at all. Thompson spoke
of one tragedy that wasn't heard about here. The mortar
men would patrol in shifts around the base and often
got bored. So they did "dry runs," practice drills to
help them plan and prepare for real combat situations.
Just a few months before Thompson left Iraq, the mortar
men did one of their "dry runs." But this time the soldiers
didn't get the message that that's what it was, and
they blew up the house they were targeting.
Thompson doesn't know how many were killed, but he
does know that the story never got reported.
In fact, he said a lot of deaths don't make the news.
He says a lot of people don't realize that the casualty
rates, including deaths and wounded, are bigger than
they were in Vietnam. It is hard to recognize because
there were more numbers in Vietnam, but the rates in
this war are what is higher.
And the numbers they have are only military troops.
There is no official or accurate count of the number
of civilian casualties.
"It's depressing, but we have no idea how many Iraqi's
have been killed," he said.
Thompson did admit that often reporters themselves
get a limited view of the war. Thompson was located
at Camp Anaconda, about 30 miles north of Baghdad, and
said most reporters stay in or near Baghdad.
"Only the dedicated or really desperate go north,"
He said he got to see a lot more than many soldiers
and reporters in Iraq.
Because of his job and where he was located, he got
to travel a lot and meet a lot of people.
"I got a better idea of: one, what the soldiers were
doing and two, what it was like for civilians," he said.
He would have liked to have seen the reporters move
further north, but he warned that if they did, they
wouldn't get nicer stories. There just aren't very many
nice stories to tell.
Thompson pointed out that in the normal media, what
doesn't usually happen is what is in the news. It's
not the regular, everyday things that make the news.
It is the exceptions, like crime and murder. In Iraq,
the "exceptions" are the good stories.
So the question is, do they report the exception,
or do they report the truth about what is going on?
Thompson wants the truth.
He said that people should never say the media reports
are too negative because it will discourage them from
reporting that truth, and that is the last thing anyone
Sometimes even then, at least to Thompson, the truth
is still not quite clear. He said sometimes the media
spends too much time giving equal coverage to an unequal
conflict. That is his biggest critique of journalism
today: they are trying too hard to be unbiased.
"Journalists should only serve the truth," he said.
They need to call it like they see it. Right and wrong
need to be made clear. And then, if someone thinks they're
biased, "oh well."
With such a mindset, Thompson returned home with his
own strong opinions about the war.
"Not all conflicts are equal. Some are justified,
some aren't," he said. "Iraq is not justified."
To show his dedication to his fellow soldiers and
his desire to end the war and bring them home, Thompson
has planned a 26-day, 500-mile walk from the Utah/Idaho
border to the Utah/Arizona border. He will walk one
day for every 100 soldiers killed. He begins his walk
on Oct. 2, hoping that at the very least his walk will
raise awareness of the situation and preferably help
bring the soldiers home.
On his website for the walk, www.soldierspeace.com,
he says his job gave him a unique opportunity to see
more of the war than most, and he wants to put that
experience toward a cause.
He says, "I think since I've seen so much of the war
in Iraq that I'm duty-bound to do what I can to make